The Most Productive Change I’ve Made to My Schedule in Years

When the pandemic and subsequent lockdown began, finding long stretches of uninterrupted time for programming was the biggest challenge I faced in trying to schedule my day around having a 3-year old at home and both of us parents needing to also work from home. Other tasks, such as answering emails, taking phone calls, reviewing reports, and analyzing data, are possible to get done in those random pockets of time that pop up throughout the day when my daughter just happens to be entertaining herself. They can be done from my phone or my Surface Pro, and if needed can be done at the very end of the day when I’m quite exhausted.

Programming, however, is different. It requires that I’m well rested and able to get into a flow state. The solution that I came up with was to get up at 5 AM and immediately dive into my most important programming task. When my daughter finally got up around 6:30 or 7, I’d have gotten a solid 1-2 focused hours in. Which, even if the rest of the day went to hell (which it often did), I’d still be getting in a movie’s worth of time a day. Enough to keep the ball rolling and avoid falling terribly behind.

To maximize my morning time, I’d spend a few minutes the night prior planning out exactly what I was going to work on. I’d get my tea prepped for the morning, so that literally I hopped out of bed, started my tea, and started working. And to ensure I still got enough sleep, I’d aim to get to bed by 9 PM.

Somewhat surprisingly, I absolutely loved this! With a fresh mind and no one else in the family or the company awake, I was able to focus in a way that hasn’t been possible in recent years. I felt like I was getting 2-3 hours of work out of my 1-2 hours of time. I’d still end up checking my email around 7 AM on my phone, which is plenty early enough. If something serious was wrong, I would have received alerts on my phone, and if necessary could have addressed it at 5 AM in lieu of programming.

What I really loved was the feeling of accomplishment. I could get a ton of work in before 8 AM. So much so, that I decided to stick to this schedule moving forward. Now, I spend the 7 AM hour helping get my daughter ready for daycare (which resumed after a 14-week hiatus). I similarly check my email on my phone while she’s eating her breakfast. And then I’m able to dive back in for another few hours of work. By 10 AM on most days I’ve done what feels like a full day of work.

Keeping this schedule also has the side benefit of preparedness for another lockdown. Whether that’s state-wide, county-wide, or even if my daughter’s daycare has a case and we’re forced to quarantine for a few weeks. If it happens, I at least know that I have a schedule that can work.